In what's become an annual tradition, last month Shelf Awareness's John Mutter traveled to New England to spend a few days visiting bookstores with Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, this time in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Part 1 is here.
From Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, we drove to Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., which was founded in 1991 by Dan Chartrand, who before that had been executive director of the New England Booksellers Association. Unfortunately, Chartrand was away--he had traveled to Minnesota for the memorial service for Dan Odegard, the longtime bookseller, publisher, agent and all-around book man who died in March.
But events coordinator Stefanie Kiper Schmidt showed us around the charming shop in an older building on one of the main streets in Exeter, which is the home of Phillips Exeter Academy. The store puts on 8-10 events a month and partners offsite with a range of groups and organizations.
Among things that stood out in Water Street Bookstore:
Many shelf talkers are at eye level (long recommended by Steve Bercu of Bookpeople, Austin, Tex., since they will be most easily seen by customers at this height), and some of them are simple and effective. Our favorite, in its entirety: "Under the Volcano has ruined me for most other novels."
Reading glasses from 2020 Vision USA, which specializes in "Italian design fashion eyewear," are very popular. Water Street tried several reading glasses lines, but this is the first that "worked really well," Schmidt said.
In the back of the store, where a few comfy chairs are by windows overlooking the Squamscott River, the store has a journal in which customers can write whatever they want. The tradition was started by customers four or five years ago and is so popular that the store recently set out the fifth volume.
Several consignment sections feature books by Shambhala (and Roost Books), a relatively new program, and by Chelsea Green, which has been in effect for four or five years. Schmidt noted that these programs "allow us to take a chance on more titles" and offer some leeway. If the programs didn't exist, Water Street would either skip many of the titles or order only single copies.
Fiction and nonfiction are prominently displayed up front. Science fiction and fantasy is a strong section, in large part because of "several passionate booksellers," Schmidt said. The store's used books are displayed outside "in nice weather."
The store, which added children's titles in a big way in 2008, sells "a lot" of YA, Schmidt said, with most sales coming from in-store discoveries. Water Street has found it more difficult going with picture books.
Still, Schmidt said that while the winter weather had been difficult, sales were up 5% over the previous winter.
From there we drove to Portsmouth, N.H., to the elegant RiverRun Bookstore. Owner Tom Holbrook was away, so we wandered around the store, where we noted an unusual sideline: typewriters. (Otherwise, besides a few gifts, RiverRun T-shirts and book lights, the store stocks only books.)
The store offers a variety of vintage typewriters and sells one a week on average and sometimes more, said Judy, a RiverRun bookseller. Displayed in the store's windows, the typewriters are a major draw for passersby and a great conversation piece, she said. "Kids love them," and parents enjoy reminiscing and explaining what they are and how they work. "Where's the return key?" is a common question from children. "Lots of teens want their parents to buy them for them," she said.
The store has been selling typewriters for about a year, buying from a collector. They fit in well with the growing popularity of vinyl records--and the renewed popularity of printed books.
RiverRun has been in business 12 years, and moved to its current location in early 2012 after 15 community members became part-owners of the store. RiverRun has its own imprint, Piscataqua Press, which has been publishing for three years. The store sells many self-published titles as well as a few used books.